As international cricket returns to the iconic Manuka Oval with Australia taking on India this afternoon in a one-dayer and in a T20 on Friday – both of which are sold out – it’s important to remember Manuka’s significant history.
It’s close to impossible to put in a current context that moment in 1962-63 when Sir Donald Bradman came out of retirement to play for the Prime Minister’s XI against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
Sir Donald played his last test in 1948 and hadn’t played cricket for 14 years, but returned at the behest of Prime Minister Robert Menzies.
People who attended the game tell me the build-up was like no other sporting event. The cricket world was totally captivated. The biggest moment prior to this game occurred in 1958/59 when the PM’s team featured five Australian captains: Hassett, Johnson, Morris, Craig and Lindwall.
The affection for Sir Donald transcended sport. This is possibly best reflected in the number of grandstands named in his honour. But there have also been commemorative coins and stamps, statues and a museum in Bowral is dedicated to his life.
Much of this came after his Manuka Oval comeback but provides an indication of how significant he was, and remains, to so many Australians.
The ground was full to overflowing on that day in February 1963 with 14,000 fans crammed into every vantage point. Expectation was high, to say the very least.
Alas, they were to be disappointed. Sir Donald hit a four before being bowled by Brian Stratham who had the ability to pitch the ball on the seam and gain quick deviation off the pitch. Bradman was beaten by an incredible ball.
Despite the lowly score people to this day still talk about the day they witnessed Bradman at Manuka.
It is for that reason it remains iconic.
Of course, there have been many other significant moments at Manuka, including the first-ever men’s test between Australia and Sri Lanka in 2019.
There was Chris Gayle’s two master-blasting performances, where he hit 146 off 89 deliveries for the Windies against the PM’s XI in 2010 before returning in the 2015 World Cup to slam 215. This total included 16 sixes against Zimbabwe.
There was the women’s World Cup match between Australia and Bangladesh played in front of a huge crowd, as well as Jono Dean’s 51 off 35 deliveries for the PM’s XI against the Windies in 2013.
The construction of lights was a game-changer for cricket in the ACT as it opened up the facility to a range of games, such as the Big Bash and Day-Night Internationals. And this week, Manuka will play host to a one-dayer and a T20 between India and Australia.
But it will take something special to eclipse the day Sir Donald came out of retirement and strode onto Manuka Oval in 1963.